The Guest Cat – a review

Having just finished University I felt the need to read something that wasn’t academic and wasn’t long. Ask any History student to read a long, complicated book after months of reading for their degree and they will definitely have something to say about it!

Hence why I chose to read The Guest Cat as my first read of the summer holiday. Not only that but, as I’m sure you will all realise eventually, I am a massive cat lady. My cats are like mini humans and I shower them with far too much love. So much so that they often stalk off from that one too many cuddle…

The Guest Cat is a short, but very profound story about a cat that enters the lives of a Japanese couple in the late 1980s. For anyone who loves cats, or has owned a cat at any time during their lives, you will be able to relate to the connection that the couple feel with their “guest cat” who comes to visit them.

It is the cat of their neighbours that visits the couple and you will also be able to relate to their neighbours’ reaction when they learn that their cat had a second home, and second owners. I know I am very protective of my cats!

Aside from the lovely story about the cat. The Guest Cat draws out discussion on some very profound issues that impact significantly upon today’s society. From possession, memory, commemoration, familial relationships and the housing market. This book has something that everyone can relate to in one way or another.

The philosophical discussions it describes about possession and memory are the two concepts that interested me the most. The description of the emotions of the couple who feel that, although the cat visits them everyday, and sometimes even slept with them, it still does not belong to them. The feeling of relief and completion when they do eventually own their own cat is indicative of the importance of ownership within society. The same can be said with the couple’s obsession with owning their own house. A feat that they don’t achieve, but the impact of which is diminished by their ownership of a cat. Society today is obsessed with material value, who has what, what is the latest trend and the best piece of technology. This book inadvertently describes this process of the innate human desire to say something is yours. An instinct that I would argue is taken to extreme in the current world.

A refreshing comparison can be drawn by readers between the natural world of the cat, who has no boundaries and does not have any ownership. Instead the cat enjoys the world and simply “plays”. It does as it wants without the overhanging sense of having to please anyone or having to subscribe to societal norms. This freedom that the cat brings to the book seems to rub off on the couple who experience more freedom through the cat than they ever have done before.

The Guest Cat also inadvertently describes some very poignant discussions about memory and commemoration. Having studied a module on Commemorstion at university this was an aspect that really fascinated me. The human desire to visit the grave of someone who has died. In this case the guest cat who they befriended. When this desire to visit the grave is blocked, it makes the grief worse and the couple spend their time trying to find connections to the lost cat and its grave. The idea of this grave being inherently linked to the couple’s memory of the cat is an idea that most people can relate to if they have suffered a loss in their life. Visitation of graves and rituals to remember loved ones are common and part of life after a death.

The book provides a window into Japanese culture in the framework of the cat’s entry into the lives of the couple. It informs the reader of the boom of the housing industry and the subsequent crash. This is the reality of life, but the cat seems to provide an escape from the financial problems the couple have. Perhaps the reader can take away the importance of relationships and the small things in life, rather than the problems the reality of life can bring. The in depth descriptions of the insects and natural world of the garden through the lense of the cat’s “play” does indeed intrigue the reader and show that being mindful of ones surroundings can bring so much value to life. After the death of the cat the couple cannot see the green in the same light, seeing it once again as lifeless and bland.

The Guest Cat demonstrates the significant impact animals can have on the lives of people and the important lessons they can teach us. From leading a life free of inhibitions, the joys that can be found in the small things of life, and that there can be a world of language without speech. Simply being able to understand someone from looks and actions can be just as valuable. This different sense of language that the couple learn about seems all the more important considering that they are writers themselves, they seem to learn that words are not everything. Indeed, I would argue that actions do speak louder than words. We could do with learning a thing or two about how this couple communicate with their beloved guest cat. I would thoroughly suggest this to anyone who fancies having philosophical ideas presented to them in the context of a beautiful story.  

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